The School Happiness Standards Agency


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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Where do you score on Ofsted’s new inspection framework?

Have you heard about Ofsted? They’re are changing their name to: “The School Happiness Standards Agency.”*

No one saw this coming. Everyone has been getting their pedagogical pants in a twist over the proposed changes to how Ofsted inspects from September 2019. Forget about that now and just focus on your happiness hygiene. Ofsted has decided to swallow itself whole and that means no more sad faces. Schools are free once again to smile!

The new agency is being modelled on the Food Standards Agency and will follow a similar 5 star rating system.

0. Urgent Improvement Necessary

For schools that are toxic where no one smiles and everyone hates each other: score 0

Schools in this category are downtrodden, dejected and defeated. These are little shops of horrors. The staff look broken and miserable – because they are. They have no voice except for bitchy ones. Dementors are everywhere. No one treats anyone with respect and school leaders are absent on long-term sick leave. Everyone has an agenda and things get personal. These are highly dysfunctional places to be and good teachers have no chance of flourishing here.

Constant change leaves everyone confused and so staff turnover is high and pupil behaviour is challenging in the extreme. Staff are constantly fighting fires and classrooms are ‘houses of pain’ where every lesson is a battle. Survival is the name of the game in toxic schools.

Children are frequently troubled by staff with wellbeing issues and there is a constant tension in the air which is not conducive to learning. Staff talk openly to their children about their personal problems and often cry in front of them. Staff pass their stress onto pupils like a contagion.

These are sinking and stinking schools with no happiness hygiene. The staff room is a ‘no-go’ zone. Scowls and growls fill the atmosphere and the ‘sinking ship’ syndrome is felt across the community. If staff see staff see parents walking across the playground at home-time they lock the door. Professional development is non-existent and amounts to staff going on Twitter bearing their souls.

1. Major Improvement Necessary

For schools where only the caretaker smiles: score 1

Schools that require a major improvement are on the brink of a mental health breakdown. They are treading water and dark personalities enjoy watching people go under. These schools tend to see mental health as a problem for individuals to cope with themselves. They are victims of a broken systemGetting through the day is hard work and staff complain they have lost their mojos. No one shares resources with anyone else.

School leaders are invisible and spend most of the day in their offices. Staff work independently of each other and are afraid to ask for help. All the best teachers tend to leave and those that stay stagnate. Smiley people are thin on the ground and meetings are a nightmare. Fixed mindsets are everywhere and staff can give you 156 reasons to forget teaching as a career. They don’t believe in smiling before Christmas or Easter or summer.

Children work hard to support each other but the only trusted adult that smiles to them is the caretaker. This is a person who treats their job role in a very literal way and keeps the school afloat.

2. Improvement Necessary

For schools where KS1 smile but KS2 don’t: score 2

Schools that operate on split sites tend to work in silos and don’t spread the love. This means the same school can be both blissfully happy and completely miserable. Children and staff are therefore either up or down. Classes are either full of laughter or full of chaos. These schizophrenic schools have different ideas about what wellness looks like. One expects planning files to be handed in every week and the other trusts its staff to do what they need to do without digging themselves an early grave.

Teamwork is essential for schools in this category to secure necessary improvements but this is often thwarted by happy staff reluctant to engage. Happy staff are fearful that unhappy staff will make them depressed and suck them into a toxic niche.

When children move from KS1 to KS2 there is a serious risk they can plummet and underachieve because their happiness hygiene is left unattended.

Hothousing KS2 leaders think MOCKsteds are a good idea whereas KS1 leaders think spa days are better.

3. Generally Satisfactory

For schools where no one smiles on a Monday but everyone does on a Friday: score 3

Schools in this category suffer from destination addiction and set their sights on weekends and holidays. At the beginning of the week, schools in this category are gloomy and staff appear down and suffer low moods. This rubs off on children who can be heard saying “It’ll soon be hump day,” or “Only 17 more get ups until half-term,” and this negatively impacts on their mental health. Some of the staff live for The Great British Bake Off and do what they can to get through the day.

These are not unhappy schools but they are calendar vulnerable characterised by a mixture of painted false smiles and genuine beams. Around a third of staff in these schools experienced a mental health issue in the past year.

Staff and some children in these ‘milestone’ schools wish their lives away and live for the future at the expense of the present.

Generally satisfactory schools are plodders and forget that mental health isn’t just a weekend thing. Motivation can be a big problem and wellbeing initiatives amount to a tin of biscuits in the staff room and getting staff to colour in a Mindfulness page before a term begins. Restructuring is common.

4. Good

For schools that smile effortlessly to visitors and particular parents: score 4

Good schools like to smile and teachers love to teach. They know that life is not perfect but they get on with things and do the best they can with a smile on their face.For the most part staff are listened to and supported.

Schools that are ‘good’ develop positive relationships with all members of the school community. They are not afraid to flash their gnashers and they understand that a smile triggers a smile. Good schools strive hard to promote the feel-good factor and work hard on promoting gratitude.

Kindness, positivity and humour is always on the agenda and staff take a Wellbeing Oath at the beginning of every term. Mental health is important and Senior Leaders commit to a School Workload and Wellbeing Check.

Good schools have soul. They have sugar and spice. They also have lots of high fives and fist bumps. Staff meetings always begin with a group hug and ‘I Feel Good’ by James Brown. Staff ignore any emails after 6pm.

5. Very Good

For schools that just can’t stop smiling at each other: score 5

Schools in this category are optimistic, ooze positivity and full of happiness loops. 100% of the staff are 2%ers who have a laugh. Everyone is friendly, feels consistently great and smiles at each other. They are full of joy and endorphins, every conversation counts and random acts of kindness are commonplace. Staff sickness is very low and every mind matters.

Schools that are Very Good don’t really look at a glass as being half empty or half full but look at the jug next to the glass. They just focus on filling the glass. Children are relaxed, well behaved and eager to learn. They flourish because they are are happy and resilient, challenged and supported.

Very Good schools practice mindfulness, yoga and cheer-leading. They usually have a surplus budget. Staff frequently look in the mirror for self-reflection and always reward themselves with a smile.

All schools achieving the top rating have a No Moan Zone policy in place that is strictly adhered to. Wellbeing is a top priority and negativity is not welcome but starved of oxygen. Ofsted banners are banned.

Senior leaders devote themselves to making their schools beacons of light and havens of happiness. Their relentless pursuit of happiness is contagious and staff are happy to come to school. Examples of discretionary effort are everywhere and high-fives are commonly seen in the corridors.

Staff and children are happy because the school culture feeds them with daily doses of enjoyment. Everyone is wired and thrilled to be at school and they have the support of a mental health network. Everyone lets everyone know just how fabulous they are.

And finally…

They say that your school days are the happiest of your life. Well, for many teachers this couldn’t be further from the truth. For them, school is a hard slog and the daily stress of being a teacher in a toxic school eats into their wellbeing. For them, the fun has evaporated and they don’t believe in the job anymore. But not everyone is burned up, beaten up and spat out. For some, school is definitely what makes them happy. A broken system has created this imbalance.

Every teacher deserves to work in a happy place with happy people. The good news is that teachers are starting to fight back and refusing to take the blame. Change is in our hands.

*This is a spoof post.


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